NC State football announced Ruffin McNeill will be joining its staff as special assistant to the head coach in a statement issued Tuesday morning. McNeill was formerly the head coach at ECU, and most recently served as assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach at Oklahoma before parting ways to take care of his father. Head coach Dave Doeren made it clear that adding someone with McNeill’s resume and reputation was an easy decision.
"Dave and I have been very good friends and colleagues and I've followed his career over the past 20 years," McNeill said in a statement. "I have the highest respect for him as a coach and cherish our long friendship. Erlene and I are happy to be back in North Carolina and very appreciative of the opportunity. I look forward to being a resource for the entire staff, but especially for Dave. I've been in that chair and know the pressures that come along with it, so I hope to be a sounding board for him."
McNeill’s title of special assistant to the head coach means he will primarily have an advisory role for Doeren, though his duties may also include being a middleman between the team and outside interests like alumni. Other teams have tried similar positions including Virginia Tech, and after talking with Justin Fuente and Jerry Kill, who served as Fuente’s special assistant in 2019, Doeren decided it would be helpful.
“As a head coach, a lot of times you don’t get to coach,” Doeren said in a Zoom meeting with McNeill and the media. “There’s a lot of things that pull you out of your chair. Having somebody that knows how to deal with those things, like Ruffin, for me is going to allow me to be more present when I want to be.”
A major theme Doeren hit upon time and time again was McNeill’s character and how he fits into the culture at NC State. Doeren described McNeill as having the positivity he likes to see in a coach as well as the honesty, and recounted that one of his earliest impressions of McNeill stuck with him.
“When I was a [graduate assistant] at Southern Cal, you’re kinda the lowest man in the building,” Doeren said. “Visiting staffs come and go and some of them treat you like you’re the lowest, some of them treat you like an up-and-coming coach. The whole staff at Fresno [State] that Ruff was on, their defense came in and treated me like gold. I’ve always tried to stay in touch with people who showed me that kind of respect when I probably didn’t deserve it.”
That reputation of treating everyone with respect is something that McNeill carries with him to this day. A major part of his role will be mentoring players, and McNeill said he will not only be prioritizing helping the coaches, but he also wants to meet the team and be a guiding influence no matter who it is.
“Offensively, defensively, special teams-wise, first team through fourth team, doesn’t matter,” McNeill said. “To be around those kids, to be a listening ear for help. When they want to hear experiences as far as what I’ve been through, experiences maybe to help handle something outside of football. Just to make sure I’m a sounding board for the youngsters as well.”
Though the hire comes as a surprise, Doeren’s choice for an advisor is not. He and McNeill have a relationship that goes back years and it wasn’t just about coaching. McNeill said when he parted ways with Oklahoma, Doeren called him just to talk to him as a person and see how he was doing while taking care of his father, who lives in Lumberton. When the job offer came later, it felt like it was the right time.
“Dave offered a chance not just to work with a friend, but a dear friend,” McNeill said. “A lot of times trust is not just one way. There’s trust and there’s verification of trust. I think me and Dave have verification of trust which is a whole different thing, that was major for me.”